Creativity & The Business of Validation
Rachel Caplin, Business Development Manager of Team8’s Fintech foundry draws a comparison from her experience of writing a book to building a startup. And congratulations to Rachel, whose book was just nominated for The Australian 2022 Vogel Award!
I had zero intention to write a book. In November 2018, my beloved Grandma passed away. In an effort to process the grief, I started to write.
On face value, there is little in common between writing a book and building a start-up. But if you ask me, Team8’s vision to “Rethink Venture” can help guide anyone who starts with a blank page and dreams of turning it into something big.
Recognition for my book from a literary Award such as the Vogel can be summed up in one word: Validation.
During my time at Team8, I’ve learned a lot from the way we go about validating ideas. Here are some thoughts on how the Team8 validation process helps us to assemble a launching pad for founders who want to build something great.
Lean Into Expertise
Many people decide they want to write a book, then go about searching or daydreaming until a story comes together. In my experience, life is our greatest teacher. The people around us are the most fascinating characters and our little world can be the perfect setting.
In the case of my book, when you know the person, it is much easier to build a character that resonates.
In my time at Team8, I’ve learned that there is no substitute for domain expertise.
In the process of building a startup, the entrepreneur should either come from the world in which he or she intends to build, or be truly committed to onboarding that domain expertise early on, as early hires or a stellar Advisory Board. Part of the support we strive to give our entrepreneurs includes access to tried-and-true domain expertise across Cyber, Fintech, Data and more.
The idea sticks whether Team8 becomes part of the story to complement or compensate for the entrepreneur’s background – if you know the domain as well as you know your grandmother, it is much easier to build a product that fits.
Don’t Fall in Love with Your Idea
This is easier to preach than practice.
When I sat down to write the first words of my book, I envisioned readers all over the world falling in love with my amazing Grandma. Imagine my horror when one reader – the head of a renowned Historical Fiction society – told me that they loved the book, but did not think the protagonist (my Grandma) was a “hero”. This insight pointed out a major incoherence in my story. I had fallen in love with my idea, and could not see the wood for the trees.
I had to retrace my steps and pivot, changing the course of the story for good – and for the better.
We see this happen all too often. An entrepreneur has an idea with great promise. The journey starts to pressure-test the idea from all angles, and the shape of this prospective new venture forms. At times, a fundamental flaw appears in broad daylight. This can be a thorny question thrown out in a meeting, or lukewarm enthusiasm from the network we bring to the table for validation. At this moment, we see if an entrepreneur has fallen in love with the idea or is prepared to revisit the drawing board and see if a pivot can save the venture from the proverbial cutting room floor.
Find Your Problem
The major hurdle in writing my book was my Grandma. The problem was that – in my eyes – she was pretty much perfect.
This makes for a lovely real-life relationship, and an utterly boring story.
I had to merge her character – the way she spoke, dressed and behaved – with a conflict. Piecing together fascinating stories from other sources added the ‘oomph’ that gave my character a problem to solve.
Part of the unique Team8 methodology is to flip the odds of success by sourcing problems from the market, rather than starting with exciting products or solutions and then looking for the problem it solves. Our network across industries and geographies aims to empower entrepreneurs to know from Day One that they are working on something that keeps a buyer up at night, rather than a “nice to have”. When we set about the validation process, there is a clear point at which only ventures that meet truly pressing opportunities make it past.
Everything else must simply get left behind.
Brace for Feedback
I had an editor that I was truly excited to work with. I thought that her background made us a perfect fit. Turns out, she pretty much fired me as a client. She thought my work was so undercooked that there was no point calling it a book. It was tempting to ignore her and, instead, focus on the dozens who returned it within a day or two because they were unable to put it down, or the screenwriters who wanted to buy the rights to option the manuscript for a Netflix series. But we need thick skin to listen to the naysayers, at least as much as the cheerleaders. Knowing this is not enough.
Entrepreneurs – brace yourself.
Sometimes entrepreneurs come with a plan in mind, intimate knowledge of an industry or an enthusiasm to explore an unmet market challenge. The validation process separates the wheat from the chaff, but it can be a brutal experience. At Team8 we try to ease the process without sugar coating it. We leverage our resources to interpret body language and separate politeness from genuine enthusiasm, we invite our network to make sure feedback comes from trusted sources who care about our success, we provide a sounding board for conversations that could be interpreted in different ways.
It isn’t always pretty. But there is nothing more important than finding, filtering and absorbing feedback – and having a supportive partner to tackle the adventure.
As an immigrant, I suppose it is natural to think about validation and belonging. I feel lucky to be part of an ecosystem and a workplace that challenges the status quo, viewing creativity, versatility and excellence from other places as an asset rather than a distraction.
With this in mind, I have come to accept Team8’s mission to “Rethink Venture” as a bold invitation to be creative. Sure, Business Development and VC is a numbers game. But part of Team8’s DNA is a readiness to marry ‘out the box’ thinking with methodology, and champion creativity from unexpected places.